With 49ers out, the place will Vikings’ Kirk Cousins go in 2024?

For a lot of their NFL careers, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan have been the proverbial ships passing by the night time. They're going to make one other go Monday night time at U.S. Financial institution Stadium (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC), the timing as soon as once more fallacious for a long-anticipated however now virtually definitely unattainable reunion.

Simply as Cousins, who labored with Shanahan for 2 seasons in Washington in 2012-13, has laid a path towards free company and a doable exit from Minnesota the subsequent spring, Shanahan's 49ers have landed on what seems to be a long-term reply on the place Cousins as soon as appeared destined to fill.

The 49ers reached out to Washington about buying and selling for Cousins in 2017, hoping to capitalize on the connection between Shanahan and the quarterback. Hypothesis then moved to 2018, when Cousins was set to hit the free agent market, however by then Shanahan had acquired Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots.

In 2022, the Vikings prolonged Cousins' contract and, in response to a number of sources, closely pursued a rookie quarterback from Iowa State named Brock Purdy within the ultimate hours of the draft, hoping to signal him to a UDFA deal. Purdy advised ESPN final week he was contemplating the 49ers, Houston Texans and Vikings if he had gone undrafted. The 49ers, nonetheless, swooped in and made Purdy the ultimate collection of the seventh spherical. When the 49ers misplaced Garoppolo and fellow quarterback Trey Lance to damage through the season, Purdy stepped in and gained the job.

Monday night time's matchup will present a public backdrop for a non-public conclusion: Kyle Shanahan has discovered his Kirk Cousins. Purdy, who entered Week 7 main the NFL in Whole QBR (76.9), is 12 years youthful, will earn $29 million less than Cousins this season and will not be eligible for a contract extension till 2025. Cousins, in the meantime, is left taking part in out what could be a fourth non-playoff season of six in Minnesota — the place he has had one postseason win — adopted by a possible journey to free company subsequent spring.

Cousins mentioned Shanahan is “a giant motive” Washington drafted him in 2012 and “we have type of adopted one another ever since then.” However in all chance, Purdy's emergence has shut the ultimate door on a Cousins-Shanahan reunion.

Shanahan stays a staunch believer in Cousins. However when requested final week if he had ever allowed himself to marvel what would have occurred if he adopted by on the preliminary Cousins plan whereas his staff was biking by injured quarterbacks for the previous six years, Shanahan mentioned, “Probably not.”

San Francisco's perception in Purdy has made it simpler to keep away from that hindsight.

“He earned lots of belief with me, earned lots of belief with the gamers,” Shanahan mentioned. “Going into the offseason, how he dealt with his damage, how he simply dealt with himself when he wasn't capable of observe, simply within the assembly rooms and all the things. And thru each expertise with him in video games this yr, he has earned as a lot belief as you possibly can have in a quarterback.”


FROM THE TIME Shanahan turned Niners head coach in 2017, the concept of Cousins landing in San Francisco appeared to virtually be a foregone conclusion. As Washington's offensive coordinator, Shanahan pushed to choose Cousins within the fourth spherical of the 2012 NFL draft, they usually cast an in depth bond.

Upon Shanahan's departure from Washington after the 2013 season, he coordinated offenses in Cleveland (2014) and Atlanta (2015-16) earlier than touchdown his first head-coaching job with the Niners. In the meantime, Cousins ascended to the beginning position for Washington, incomes his first Professional Bowl nod in 2016 however by no means receiving the long-term dedication he sought from the staff.

Washington used two franchise tags on Cousins, the second of which got here in 2017, and his departure, by the Niners' design, was set to align with after they'd want to choose up a franchise quarterback. To name the concept of Cousins to the Niners the worst-kept secret within the NFL could be foolish as a result of no person was all for hiding it.

Way back to the 2017 NFL homeowners' conferences, the Niners' high decision-makers have been open concerning the plan to land Cousins, even when it meant ready a yr. They'd broached the concept of buying and selling for him, however lingering points between the Shanahans and Washington proprietor Daniel Snyder made the transfer a relative nonstarter.

That offseason, the 49ers signed veteran Brian Hoyer as a placeholder and chosen Iowa's C.J. Beathard within the third spherical of the draft, spending little time high quarterback prospects similar to Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson regardless of proudly owning the No. 2 decide in that yr's NFL draft. That alternative was finally dealt to Chicago for extra picks, together with the No. 3 decide, which they used on defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. They saved a watch towards constructing the remainder of the roster and utilizing a giant chunk of their greater than $100 million in wage cap house to land Cousins when he turned a free agent in 2018.

San Francisco's persistence was examined instantly, because it misplaced the primary 9 video games of the Shanahan period. Simply earlier than that ninth loss, the Niners made a stunning deadline deal, sending a second-round decide to the Patriots for his or her backup quarterback, Garoppolo.

Niners common supervisor John Lynch even joked after the commerce that Shanahan was in a little bit of mourning as a result of Cousins could be out of the image. However after that deal, Shanahan and Lynch promised one another they weren't going to dive into a long-term arrangement with Garoppolo with out him proving himself.

“You assume that [you're going to get Cousins] all the way in which up-to-the-minute,” Shanahan mentioned. “Once we received the chance that we traded for Jimmy, we have been nonetheless fascinated by it, however after these six video games [Garoppolo] performed we moved on, and we have moved on since then and actually have not appeared again.”

On Nov. 26, 2017, Garoppolo stepped in for an injured Beathard late in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He threw a landing go on the sport's ultimate play, entered the beginning lineup and went on to guide the Niners to 5 consecutive victories to shut the season.

Even with Cousins set to grow to be the uncommon Professional Bowl quarterback to hit free company in his prime, the 49ers went all-in on Garoppolo, signing him to a then-record five-year, $137.5 million contract in February 2018. With the Niners out of the combo, Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million totally assured contract with the Vikings in mid-March.

A pair weeks after the quarterback musical chairs had settled, Shanahan acknowledged the scuttled Cousins plan on the league conferences in Orlando, Florida. Shanahan mentioned signing Cousins “was the plan” however that “one thing else got here throughout us, and we're very completely satisfied that it did,” including that he was “actually completely satisfied the way it ended up for all sides.”

In concept, that is the place the Cousins to San Francisco flirtation ought to have ended. However within the years since, each side have been continuously reminded that the one actual ensures for NFL quarterbacks come within the type of the {dollars} spent on their contracts.


THE VIKINGS PURSUED Cousins within the 2018 free agent market months after backup quarterback Case Keenum spurred a shock run to the NFC Championship Recreation. They envisioned Cousins, 30 on the time, because the type of long-term starter who had eluded the franchise for many of its historical past, one whose presence would carry a robust nucleus over the ultimate hurdle and into the Tremendous Bowl.

Within the franchise's earlier 57 seasons, solely two quarterbacks had lasted greater than 5 years as the first starter. One was Corridor of Famer Fran Tarkenton, and the opposite was Tommy Kramer, whose ultimate season was 1989. Over the subsequent 28 years, the Vikings used 4 first-round picks to accumulate quarterbacks and had 16 completely different major starters.

That was the backdrop for the Vikings' resolution to totally assure Cousins a three-year, $84 million contract for a quarterback who had put up glittering passing numbers in Washington whereas the staff compiled a 26-30-1 file in video games he began.

The sample hasn't been too dissimilar in Minnesota. Because the begin of the 2018 season — throwing to a proficient group of receivers that has included Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen — Cousins has handed for the NFL's third-most passing yards (22,613), has thrown its second-most landing passes (617) and ranked No. 2 in completion proportion (67.7%).

However he has by no means completed a season among the many NFL's high 10 in QBR, a metric that measures total play within the context of sport conditions, partly due to the sacks he has taken. He ranks No. 20 within the NFL in sack avoidance over that interval, having taken one on 6% of his dropbacks, and likewise has tended to give attention to shorter, higher-percentage throws. Cousins' common go has traveled 7.5 yards within the air whereas with the Vikings, No. 16 amongst QBR qualifiers over that interval.

Regardless, the Vikings have twice prolonged his contract and may have paid him $185 million by the tip of this season, the third most within the league over that interval behind Russell Wilson ($208 million) and Aaron Rodgers ($204 million). The Vikings are 48-37-1 in Cousins' begins, a .551 successful proportion that ranks No. 14 within the NFL over that point. They've made two playoff appearances, in 2019 and 2022, with one postseason victory.

Stitching his two tenures collectively, Cousins has proved a proficient passer however not the type of transcendent quarterback who delivers what Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf envisioned following the unique 2018 signing. “Our objective yearly is to win Tremendous Bowls,” Wilf mentioned.

However as Cousins strikes by one other Kirk Cousins-like season — getting into Week 7 he ranked second within the NFL with 1,679 passing yards and was tied for first with 14 landing passes — the Vikings' looming resolution is extra fraught than it would seem. On the one hand, Cousins has been adequate to benefit one of many longest tenures in franchise historical past. However when is nice now not adequate?

“We are able to argue about whether or not Kirk is a good participant. However he is positively an excellent, strong participant, and I do know I might be arduous pressed to let him stroll out the door,” mentioned former NFL GM Mike Tannenbaum, who confronted an identical conundrum with seven-year beginning QB Chad Pennington with the New York Jets earlier than signing Brett Favre in 2008. “One factor we all the time discuss with gamers is that whereas they are not excellent, who's coming within the door to exchange them and the way a lot is it going to value to try this?”


FULLBACK KYLE JUSZCZYK was one of many first free brokers to signal with the 49ers after Shanahan and Lynch arrived in 2017. Like most everybody else within the constructing, he anticipated to catch passes from Cousins sooner or later and stays at the least “a little bit bit” shocked their snaps as teammates have been restricted to the Professional Bowl.

“Our quarterbacks have had success, and it simply hasn't lined up the place that occurred,” Juszczyk mentioned.

The explanations are largely rooted within the prosperity the Niners have loved even with out the dependability Cousins may need introduced. San Francisco hoped Garoppolo could be the reply, however a collection of accidents restricted him to beginning one full season (2019). They hoped the identical for Trey Lance, however his beginning alternative was additionally derailed largely by accidents.

It has been a protracted and irritating street to quarterback stability that was largely offset by a run to 3 NFC Championship Video games previously 4 years. That circuitous path finally led them to Purdy.

“Brock is the man, and I do not see that altering,” Juszczyk mentioned.

When the 49ers used the ultimate decide within the 2022 NFL draft on Purdy, it was seen as a late-round flier that got here with few expectations. When Garoppolo, who changed Lance because the starter, broke his left foot in Week 13, Purdy stepped into the beginning lineup.

The pure assumption was the Niners' promising season (they have been 8-4 on the time) was sunk behind a seventh-round rookie. It was one other likelihood to marvel what may need occurred had the Niners saved their give attention to Cousins, who has missed one begin for health-related causes — a optimistic COVID-19 take a look at in 2021 — since signing with Minnesota.

As an alternative, Purdy has thrived.

In a ending flourish paying homage to Garoppolo in 2017, San Francisco rattled off 5 straight wins to shut the common season with Purdy behind middle. He additionally led the 49ers to 2 playoff wins, as they superior to their second straight NFC Championship Recreation.

Though Purdy tore the UCL in his proper elbow early in that NFC title sport loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, he had completed sufficient, as soon as wholesome, to earn first crack on the beginning quarterback job for 2023 and past.

“I felt that with Jimmy when he was right here, too,” Shanahan mentioned. “I felt we had stability and all the things and simply these accidents have been powerful. After which Brock, when he got here in final yr, you are undecided. You know the way he's in observe. We knew he had a possibility, an opportunity to be like that. However these seven video games final yr that he performed in, you knew it fairly effectively.”

Earlier than Purdy, the Niners' offense had been good, however his knack for making performs off schedule, pushing the ball down the sector and distributing it to his playmakers whereas making few errors elevated it.

Within the 12 video games earlier than Purdy turned the starter, the Niners' offense averaged 23.5 factors (thirteenth within the NFL) and 357.9 yards per sport (tenth) and had a QBR of 54.4 (seventeenth). Together with the playoffs and 6 video games this season, Purdy has began 14 video games with the 49ers, main them to 29.9 factors (first) and 366.4 yards per sport (eighth) and has a QBR of 70.6 (second). He is 12-2 as a starter and gained his first 10 regular-season video games earlier than final week's loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Thus far, Purdy has provided the kind of reliability the Niners have been desperately searching for. Tight finish George Kittle can simply rattle off the names of all of the quarterbacks he has performed with and when he has performed with them since he was a part of Shanahan and Lynch's first draft class in 2017.

“That is all we're in search of is simply constant play and simply the identical man on the market it doesn't matter what's taking place,” Kittle mentioned. “That is all I actually care about.”

Maybe most necessary, Purdy has provided big-time manufacturing at small-time value. He is signed by the subsequent three seasons at a median wage cap hit of $1,004,253 and may't even negotiate an extension till after the 2024 season. Largely due to that, the Niners have been capable of divert sources elsewhere, similar to re-signing defensive finish Nick Bosa and paying defensive sort out Javon Hargrave at or close to the highest of their respective markets.

In keeping with OverTheCap, the 49ers have almost $40 million in cap house, however that's largely earmarked to roll over to subsequent yr. The present plan for that cash is to retain extra of their very own gamers, similar to receiver Brandon Aiyuk, fairly than making an attempt to land Cousins.

That is to not say the Niners do not nonetheless like or respect Cousins a lot as it is a reflection of how they view their present quarterback.

“He is a quarterback that any staff want to have,” security Tashaun Gipson Sr. mentioned. “Except you might have Brock Purdy.”


A FEW YEARS in the past, a well known reality filtered right down to the notoriously insulated Cousins: Former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck didn't personal a smartphone. As an alternative, he used a flip cellphone for texts and calls — and that is it.

“I believed, ‘That is fairly good,'” Cousins mentioned. So he went right into a retailer and picked one up himself. To Cousins, it was preferable to close down entry to information and different distractions than “cope with it affecting extra necessary issues.”

All of which was Cousins' method of insisting that he did not know he has been the topic of public commerce hypothesis ever because the Vikings' sluggish begin coincided with New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ Achilles tear. Cousins has a full no-trade clause, and citing his ongoing need to reside in a distraction-free world, declined to say whether or not he would ever contemplate waiving it.

It could require a “excellent storm” of circumstances to result in a commerce, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Paradoxically, the likeliest situation may very well be a season-ending damage to Purdy earlier than the Oct. 31 deadline. However whereas a midseason commerce stays extremely unlikely, there isn't a consensus both inside or outdoors the Vikings group on whether or not Cousins will return for 2024.

His present contract will void after the NFL's March 5, 2024, deadline for utilizing the franchise tag. So even when the Vikings need to deliver him again, they might not be capable to cease him from signing elsewhere. Cousins has made clear he desires to proceed taking part in after turning 36 subsequent summer season, having hired a full-time performance coach to work with him to mitigate the injury of the 1,008 hits he has taken because the begin of his tenure as a full-time starter in 2015, the third most amongst NFL quarterbacks throughout that interval, in response to ESPN Stats & Info.

And whereas he has mentioned repeatedly he hopes to complete his profession in Minnesota, he virtually definitely could be the highest free agent quarterback obtainable subsequent spring in a category that would embody Baker Mayfield and Ryan Tannehill.

The Vikings haven't any apparent successor on their roster, a circumstance that speaks each to their ongoing curiosity in Cousins in addition to poor timing. Basic supervisor Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O'Connell have been employed in 2022, coinciding with one of many worst quarterback lessons in latest reminiscence. Just one — Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett — was drafted within the first two rounds.

Whether or not Purdy would have emerged as a beginning candidate behind Cousins, who has missed two NFL begins in his profession, won't ever be identified. In the meantime, the Vikings' stunning 13-4 regular-season file left them at No. 23 total in 2023, far faraway from place to draft any of the highest quarterbacks obtainable. They used a fifth-round decide on BYU's Jaren Hall, however he supplied no indication throughout three preseason appearances that he may very well be within the dialogue to begin in 2024.

The upcoming draft has a robust class of quarterbacks, led by projected No. 1 total decide Caleb Williams of USC, however it should take time to know whether or not the Vikings can be in place to take one in all them. They've gained two video games already and have the NFL's Twelfth-easiest schedule in entrance of them, in response to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). That provides them an 8.7% likelihood of touchdown within the high 5 of the draft and a 35.7% likelihood of securing a top-10 decide, per FPI.

There may be additionally the actual, if unstated, proven fact that Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell can be getting into the third yr of their tenure in 2024. Would they place their careers at that time within the palms of a rookie quarterback or one other veteran bridge starter? Tannenbaum mentioned executives and coaches “all the time say” they do not take such concerns under consideration. “However the actuality is that all of them most likely do,” he mentioned.

The mix of these components, Tannenbaum mentioned, ought to lead the Vikings to contemplate a 3rd possibility: Bringing again Cousins whereas additionally drafting his alternative.

“If I used to be them, I'd do each,” Tannenbaum mentioned. “I feel the way in which our sport goes, you'll be able to't have sufficient of them. I'd be hard-pressed to not say, ‘Hey, this is regardless of the quantity is, whether or not it is $80 [million], $85 [million], $90 million for 2 years, do this for Cousins, and draft his successor.”

That method could be expensive in quite a few methods, particularly because the Vikings work to signal Jefferson to a contract extension, and it could decrease the aggressive benefit of getting a beginning quarterback on a rookie deal. But it surely additionally highlights the fraught nature of the choice, and the way the seek for an apparent reply is met with the comprehensible silence of ships passing by the night time.

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